architecture

Is the old better than the new?

By WFinch (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
By WFinch (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/ licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copy left/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
The pull of the modern and the new vs the tug of the old and revered can feel like a vice. Where do we go with these two tugs and pulls? It is hard for a conservative –and when it comes to my archite ctural landscape, I have deep conservative impulses– to see the old obliterated in favor of the new.

By Justin.A.Wilcox (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Justin.A.Wilcox (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Preservation demands that we acknowledge and keep the old. Newness is somehow the enemy of all those plinths and columns, dodads and architectural details. The argument that that old brownstone is sturdier, was built better, than the new hi-rise is tenuous, but bolstering.

Yet, a city is a living thing that needs to mature and change.

For years, we have been looking up at taller and more statuesque structures. Modernity requires renewal, new visions, new ways of seeing, new construction. It emboldens us to look at a streetsacpe of sleekness. We need to move forward.

Can the old and the new sit side by side? Don’t we have to knockdown to build up?

Is it renewal or desecration? Where do we draw the line?

Frederick Burrell Residence. Designed by Frank Freeman and built in 1900, it was demolished in 1938. Drawing: Originally from Architects and Builders Magazine, February 1902. Reproduced in the Prospect Park South Historic District Designation Report, 1979, nyc.gov.
Frederick Burrell Residence. Designed by Frank Freeman and built in 1900, it was demolished in 1938. Drawing: Originally from Architects and Builders Magazine, February 1902. Reproduced in the Prospect Park South Historic District Designation Report, 1979, nyc.gov.

Not every building that is demolished is a treasure, and some that are–were– are lost to us forever. Their replacements can be gorgeous or just eyesores.
Or, perhaps, what’s being razed is ordinary or pedestrian. Maybe the building rising out of the dirt is likewise unremarkable, or only remarkable for its yawn-inspiring lines.

These, too, may someday be replaced by the new, the innovative, the practical perspective of future generations.

Built and rebuilt, that is the nature and the nurture of my city. Sometimes for better and on occasion for worse, but New York and I have taken the vow, to stand by and observe, to enjoy and cherish.

There is so much to prize in the vibrant streets of New York. Built and rebuilt, always reinventing itself. I’ll be happily looking up to see what’s new.

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